Tuesday, October 9, 2018

P.B. Shelley : A Defence of Poetry English Literature

A Defence of Poetry 

Shelley's A Defence of Poetry was a reply to the attack made by his contemporary Thomas Love Peacock but we need to know a little about the larger context provided by Plato's attack on poetry and Sidney's 'Apologie' for it (Sidney's apology came some hundred years later but he did have Plato in mind all the time). Plato had attacked poetry as being an image of an image and as something which weakens reason and self-control. Its appeal is to the emotions, to man's lower self. Poets think that they have knowledge of all subjects but that is far from being the actual case.
Popy is not a rational discourse nor is it a valid means of knowledge. Sidney's argument was that the poet is a 'maker'. He does not imitate or express or discuss things which already exists he invents new things. The world invented or created by the poet is a better world than the real one. It is nor the mere exercise of the imagination. That justifies the poet's exercise of his imagination to create a better world. The imagination does not give us an insight into reality but an alternative reality and a supervisor one at that.

To Sidney poetry is superior as a moral teacher to both philosophy and history, because it does not deal with mere abstract propositions, as philosophy does, but with the concrete example, and as its examples are not tied to fact it can make them more apt and convincing their anything found in history. The poet not only exceeds the philosopher in his ability to create the perfect example, but also in his ability to move the reader to follow that example. In 1820 Shelley's close friend and noted novelist, Thomas Love Peacock (1785- 1866) wrote an essay entitled 'The Four Ages of Poetry' which appeared in a single issue of Literary Miscellany. According to Peacock, poetry passes through four distinct ages comparable to four ages of man.

A Defence of Poetry, phaguniya, english literature, Ugc Net Jrf Notes

These are: the age of iron in which everything is crude and untutored (the period of primitive and medieval folk ballads and romances) as in the period of infancy; the age of gold in which the natural genius is full blown (the period of epic and tragic forms of fifth century Athens and Renaissance Europe), youth; the age of silver in which the luxuriant growth of imagination is pruned through rules (the periods of Virgil and Lucretius and of Dryden and Pope), middle age; and the age of bronze in which poetry returns to an artificial simplicity, the second childhood of extreme old age (the declining classical period, the age of Wordsworth, Scott, Byron and others). Peacock asserted that as civilisation advances, poetry declines until its pursuit becomes a waste of time for an intelligent and enlightened person whose time would be better spent in the study of natural and social sciences. The essay excited Shelley to what he called 'sacred rage'. In several letters to Peacock himself, Shelley described it as a 'heresy' and an undiscriminating censure upon the temple of immortal song. In reply he wrote the brilliant treatise, A Defence of Poetry (1821).

Peacock, in his presumption, had taken up the defence of reason and enlightenment against primitivism and superstition. Shelley turns the tables on him. The grand fabric of human civilisation is not the product of reason but that of imagination'; it is not the reasoners who are the makers of history but men of imagination, the poets. To establish his thesis Shelley needed to define poetry, explain the creative process and evaluate it in terms of its influence on the life of the individual and the society. In essence, Shelley's defence is a retort to Peacock's 'rationalistic, cynical and humorous description of the decay and final disappearance of poetry in an age of utility'.

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